The wellbeing and health of lawyers does not attract a lot of attention; so far, there does not appear to be a great impetus to change the current intolerable situation. There is a perception that, if we do speak about mental health, many feel people will see lawyers as being “weak” or “vulnerable”.
The Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA) first tackled this issue with an article in the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland in April 2016. Since then, SYLA has engaged with the Legal Wellbeing Scotland initiative and has been pleased to see a number of meetings take place with key stakeholders relating to this thorny issue. Undoubtedly, the aim of the initiative is to put mental health within the legal profession in Scotland on the agenda, and to establish a culture which could be a catalyst for change.
From the time a young lawyer chooses to study law at university, and throughout the duration of their career, many feel the pressure to succeed and with this, to devote their lives to the profession 24 hours a day. Not only is this unhealthy for the body, but it can create detrimental consequences for the mind. First of all, law is undoubtedly a very competitive course to successfully get on to, and then there is pressure to achieve high grades. While studying at university, there is the need to find experience on a work placement programme, then to apply for a place on the diploma, and find the funding to do all of this. It doesn’t stop at university. From applying for a traineeship to eventually qualifying and finding an NQ post, young lawyers are also trying to have some kind of life outside of the law – whether that is taking time to do things they enjoy, keep fit, or spend time with family and friends outside their network of lawyers.
A recent study of the mental health and wellbeing of students showed that law students suffer from greater levels of stress in comparison to other courses such as medicine. It is important to mention that a third of calls to LawCare come from students, those in training, and up to 5 years qualified, which is a remarkable number. Suicide has featured in the media recently as being more prevalent amongst younger individuals, with one example very close to myself and particularly our legal profession, that of Emily Drouet, who was also a law student. SYLA is keen that the Legal Wellbeing Scotland Initiative continues to make headway in the year ahead. The issue is far from being resolved, but is being tackled seriously with the Law Society of Scotland and LawCare leading the way. This can only be a positive step forward.
Laila Kennedy is a SYLA Committee Member and 3rd Year Law (LL.B) and German student at the University of Aberdeen